Los Angeles County sheriff's officials on Sunday displayed photos and a video appearing to show a man holding a gun just before he was fatally shot Saturday by deputies in an incident that has generated debate about police use of force.
Sheriff's officials said at a news conference that the man, Nicholas Robertson, 28, fired six to seven shots into the air on a residential street in Lynwood before walking into a bustling shopping district on Long Beach Boulevard around 11 a.m.
He entered at least one business on the boulevard, "behaving erratically with gun in hand," said Capt. Steve Katz of the sheriff's homicide unit. A video displayed at the news conference showed Robertson on the street appearing to hold a gun as the two deputies arrived.
Katz said "public safety was critical here" because there were people on the street, including some at a gas station that Robertson was walking toward. Robertson at one point pointed the gun in the deputies' direction and ignored their commands for him to drop the weapon, he said.
The deputies opened fire, and in the video released Saturday, continued to shoot as Robertson was crawling. Authorities said he was continuing to hold the gun at that time. In all, one deputy fired 16 shots and the other fired 17.
Juan Roberto, 18, told the Los Angeles Times he was sweeping the floor inside the pool and banquet room of Chico's Pizza parlor, across the street from the site of the shooting, on Saturday morning when a man walked in with a gun.
Seth Stoughton, a criminal law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former Tampa, Fla., police officer, said there are circumstances under which an officer can shoot at a suspect walking away from them. “If the deputies reasonably believe the suspect with a firearm presents a danger by walking toward a gas station with vehicles and bystanders, they would be justified in using deadly force.
“It does not strike me as egregious like [the] Walter Scott video here in South Carolina.... If the suspect wasn't armed or they didn't have a solid basis for that belief, that would more problematic,” Stoughton said. More facts, he cautioned, are needed to determine what occurred outside the video.
Once the suspect is on the ground, how close the gun is to him is key in whether shots are justified, he added.